Intro: Peter Elbow’s Surreal Vision of Social Reality

We are underwater. Blub, blub. Did you say something?

Static Communication. Blah, blah, blah, blah…Huh?

Until: More personal, imaginative creative writing…

People find themselves in a group where their words are heard. Pg. 23 “they want to say things that are complex and difficult to express which they had previously learned to ignore as it had always been impossible to get them heard..”

…”they want to send messages they had forgotten were on their minds” Peter Elbow

Message on My Mind

Walking 4.2 miles with my girlfriend in Westgate Shopping Center one night last week was exercise with the benefit of air conditioning and fun talk.  Katy’s one of those friends Elbow refers to — “that’s why it’s so magical when you have a friend who actually understands much of what you are trying to say.  It makes you want to say things you never thought you had in you.” [pg 122] We get each other.  So, we were laughing and talking, in our typical style with five or six open incomplete threads, sentences that would be picked up after other anecdotes or comments.

            For me, this walk was an art tour of the high-end handbags in various name brand stores, partly because Katy had just attended a graduation where her ex was invited.  For some reason, her way of making him “eat his heart out” was for her to be dressed super fashionably with all the right labels.  I surmised he’d always required that kind of class of her.  Now Katy was my docent.

            My theme was trying to articulate why one purse got my attention or some repelled me.  We were in yet another a store, both having agreed that the best handbag was an unusually textured Ives St. Laurent.  It was softly illumined on its own shelf high on the wall.  Katy wanted to know the price, so an obliging saleswoman opened it and found a card. 

            My friend realized that, in my inattentiveness, I hadn’t gotten it.  To help it register, she said “nine grand” in an aside with teeth in her words.  Just to let me know. Which was maybe information for her, but I went on mute.  Underwater, into the fog.  There was something to say I couldn’t articulate.  I could do the math:  ten times less expensive would still be $900.  Who would spend that on a purse?  And ten times less again would put it down to $90, a lot for one at Marshalls.  

            At the shopping center with Katy, after I saw that Ives St. Laurent, I couldn’t shake a dull feeling.  Over the next few days, I’d remember the moment, looking up at the carefully lit plate glass the handbag sat upon.  Glittering light around a very sleek finish.  It was no longer just a handbag. I had this underwater, mute feeling. The fear that if I said anything at all, no one would hear my words at all.

            A week later, I began to write this account after I drew a cartoon subtitled, “Huh?. It was during my sketching and putting Peter Elbow’s words in the frames that I paid attention to the message.

            Recent national events have been roiling pictures in my mind I cannot reconcile, on the one hand, I see extreme luxury — the local reality of people living in dream homes, driving super cars and buying small islands for get-away –  people who work for Apple, Tesla, PayPal, Facebook, eBay, and Silicon Valley Bank, who are wealthy to the point where I don’t get the math.  Someone has to lean in and put teeth into the nine figure sums like I don’t speak English.  Explain a company’s increase in income at 533% last year to me.

            And on the other hand, I see deprivation and poverty — the mental snapshots all day — of homeless and struggling folks downtown.  I see people online who were shot or man-handled for nothing, and I read things that made me envision so many more in small towns scraping out a living.  Paying more for being poor.  I am feeling weariness for these people, and I ache for the aging trying to climb on a bus, for those ground down with overwork and fines, with betrayals from landlords, and layoffs for downsizing that upsized somebody else’s pocket.

            As I began to write, I wanted to mentally put those divergent status humans in the same room together.  I wanted the ultra-wealthy and the man working two jobs struggling to feed his family to meet face to face, maybe talk.  In real life, of course, the ultra-rich are completely insulated from the growing poverty around them, similar to European feudal days of city princes and serfdom.

            I make them enter my mental room by squishing the images into the same space.  Two men — one criminalized for his skin color and hustling CD’s.  Another selling cigarrettes because a prison record handicapped his able body from work.  And standing nearby another two. Posing for a press photo, a corporate CEO whose pay increased 148% over the past three years, stands with an elegantly dressed lobbyist who knows the ways of Washington.  Paid per hour what would sustain a poor household for a week. All four of them in this art gallery box of a room.  What will happen?

            I’m not whining about wealth.  This isn’t little kid “no fair!” I realize that some people may have honestly and accidentally risen to, or inherited luxury, as happens in history.  As happens to some who fall on hard times.  Yet, lately I apprehend some of these super rich men and women as profiteers who have done covert, criminal things for their wealth. I don’t mean the Mafia.  I’m talking out in the open, on Wall Street, in Senate committee hearings, in corporate and banking deals — unhampered by the laws that apply to me.  Wealth insulates people from trouble and isolates them from humanity.

            These people don’t get shot. Never have a hand slapped. This court fines you three Ives St. Laurent handbags for raping our economy and compromising the federal legislature with bribes.  

This response was written the summer of 2016

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